Birds with odd plumages always stand out, especially if they are white, or if they have prominent white patches. A red wattlebird at Ballarat's Botanical Gardens has attracted attention because it is markedly paler than others of its kind.
A close inspection of this bird reveals not so much that it is whiter, but that it lacks black in its feathers.
The photo shows browns of all shades, but no true black.
A normal red wattlebird would be almost black, streaked with white, on almost all of its upper body, from head to tail tip. The forehead is almost black, instead of the chocolate-brown shown here. There would normally be a black edge to the warty-looking pale skin under the eye.
There is another sort of wattlebird in Victoria, known as the little wattlebird, but it too is similar to a red wattlebird on top - dark with white streaks. Two diagnostic features of a red wattlebird are a yellow belly and pink legs and feet, both clearly shown here.
This bird, photographed in April, has a very small red wattle - so small and pale that it is barely visible.
Male and female red wattlebirds are generally indistinguishable in the field, although the female is slightly smaller, with a slightly smaller wattle.
Immature red wattlebirds have small wattles, but they also have a smaller and paler yellow patch underneath. They are not paler above.
The technical term for a lack of black pigment is hypomelanism, with an affected bird being hypomelanistic.
Sometimes these differently-coloured birds live long enough to breed and produce youngsters, but the unusual plumage rarely carries on through the offspring.
A more obvious bird that has attracted attention not far away is a guinea-fowl at the North Gardens Wetlands, no doubt released there by someone who no longer wanted to keep it at home.
A lone Cape Barren Goose is still being seen from time to time at the lake, with up to nine magpie geese present on the islands in the centre.
A TIME FOR LEAVES
The winter solstice is not a time for wildflowers, although pink heath brightens parts of the winter bushland. Fungi, too, can be colourful and prominent.
Winter is more a time for leaves - leaves of spring wildflowers that have re-emerged from summer invisibility to now take in light to photosynthesize and eventually produce the flowers in spring.
An experienced eye picks out yam daisies, greenhoods, sun-orchids, blue stars, waxlips, sundews, fringe-lilies and more, all gradually preparing for the flowers that delight us every year.
NATURE QUERIES ANSWERED
This photo was taken in my backyard in Wendouree. The bird was sitting on my back fence eating its kill. What species of bird is this? Are these birds common in Wendouree?
This is a nicely-plumaged adult male brown goshawk. The frowning expression, and the rather long rounded tail are features of this goshawk, but not of the very similar collared sparrowhawk. The two species are difficult to tell apart, and both occur in suburban Ballarat.
Your bird does not look large, which makes it a male. The brown goshawk is an occasional visitor to gardens and backyards in Wendouree and other parts of Ballarat. Most sightings are in the cooler months, with birds dispersing from bushland after breeding. Its main prey is birds, which, in Wendouree, would be mostly introduced species.